Well before a month into Lunar New Year (農歷新年), if you admit you’re one food blog addict yourself, you’ve probably been swarmed by the gazillion recipes out there for the same thing. Yes — it’s no other than pineapple tarts (黃梨餅). And, these dainty treats come in various forms and with various textures. We Malaysians and Singaporean food bloggers make it to a point to blog about it at this time of the year — just like what you’d do with gingerbread men during Christmas. Pineapple tarts are an indispensable part of Lunar New Year in these two countries.
Being born with two aunts who are amazing cooks and bakers themselves, I’ve been showered with boxes and jars of goodies each festive season. Aunt A is famous for her Nyonya-style pineapple tarts and kuih bangkit while Aunt B is famous for her nastars and mooncakes (月餅). Feeling inspired, I set out to make my own this New Year.
Actually, I’ve already started my pineapple tart adventure since I was a student in the U.S. Motivated by the need and severe cravings for some festive treats last New Year, my maiden attempt came about last January in the freezing northern Minnesota. When I come to think of it now, it was a so-so attempt. Not really my best. What was different back then was I didn't use a nastar press but a rolling pin and a knife. I also cooked the pineapple filling in the microwave. This modern method can be a boon. However, if you weren’t careful enough due to underestimation, you may end up with wet filling! What’s worse your microwave will be suffering from a high fever after 50 minutes of constant heating. Poor thing!
Modern nastar press
Now, let’s fast forward to February 2010. Ready-made pineapple filling has been trying to seduce me into giving up a few extra bucks for more free time and convenience. Luckily, the devil’s advocate in me reckoned and said: “They look artificial. They’re less fibrous. And they’re too sweet!” I was and am utterly convinced. So, I cooked the filling from scratch twice with four jumbo pineapples.
I adapted the pineapple filling recipe that Quinn and her granny shared with me. What keeps me from giving up on this recipe is the slightly caramelized sugar it calls for — it’s so unique! At my first attempt, I overcaramelized the sugar till it looked amber in color and ended up with darker, slightly bitter filling. A bit too spicy for my picky family, too. (Not for me though. I’m a glutton!) Feeling defeated, I set out to make another batch again the following weekend.
Boy, I got it right finally! After consulting with Quinn on MSN and Aunt A over the phone, I had an idea of where went wrong. This time, I had the sugar barely caramelized, i.e. turning it into somewhat beige in color. I also modified the recipe and used less spices to suit my family’s taste. Voila! With higher energy efficiency, using slightly more than 2 hours instead of 4 hours standing by the stove cooking compared to my earlier attempt, my pineapple filling looked like a mound of gold, exactly what we want in a pineapple tart! In the southeastern Chinese dialect of Min Nan 閩南話 (or Hokkien 福建話), pineapple tarts are known as 黃梨餅, in which 黃梨 (pineapple) is pronounced as “ong lye.” For a homonymic language like Chinese, it sounds like you’re saying “prosperity is imminent (旺來)!”
As for the pastry, I wanted to make two kinds of texture. But in the end, I ended up with one!? First, it was the melt-in-your-mouth pastry. Like what many other fellow food bloggers have shared, I struggled and sweated to have the dough piped out of the nastar press. I even struggled to have the straps of piped-out dough rolled up to wrap around the pineapple filling. At my first attempt, I didn’t mess the dough up. And because I didn’t overwork it, the pastry was short and melted in our mouths. The downside was it was too fragile that the tarts simply fell apart as I was holding it. So, there was no way for us to stack and store these fragile creatures properly!
Quinn told me that for the melts-in-your-mouth type pastry, it should ideally be sturdy enough to be held and immediately crumbles the moment it touches down in your oral cavity. Aunt B, who’s been selling pineapple tarts for almost 20 years, has a recipe that yields such texture precisely. Her tarts are sturdy enough to be held and packed; they fall apart as they enter your oral cavity. Since hers are for commercial purposes, I don’t dare to beg that recipe from her — one that she had perfected after years of trials and errors!
Feeling defeated again, I determined to give it another shot — but with modifications. As much as I wished for them to turn out like Aunt B’s, I got a texture that stood between crunchy and crumbly – but didn’t melt in your mouth. The tarts made with this dough were sturdy enough to be stacked up and stored in the jars. They have no problems traveling. Though not exactly what I’d looked for, they were still quite a happy accident! =)
On the same day, I also made the crunchier Nyonya-style pineapple tarts. I decided to go with Florence’s recipe, a fellow blogger whose recipes have been trusted by many others out there. Most importantly, remember to have the butter and all the liquids called for in the recipe chilled to yield crumbly, flaky pastry! And, DON’T overwork the dough! All these are precisely the rules you have to keep to get flaky and short pie crust!
So, let’s see … Did I end up with one or two kinds of pastry here for the pineapple tarts then? Feeling stupefied (after rounds and rounds of baking and cooking in the kitchen while having to work on weekdays), my answer is one — and I love them all! Though it’s been exhausting, all the efforts are worth it! Let’s cross our fingers hoping that I shall continue my experiment on short and crumbly pastry in the near future. I won't be publishing my experiment on nastars this time around due to my lack of confidence. As for now, here are just the recipes for the pineapple filling and Nyonya-style pastry. Hope you'll like them. =)
Here's to wish everyone A VERY HAPPY LUNAR NEW YEAR with the Tiger! Gong Hey Fatt Choy! (在此恭祝各位兄弟姐妹虎年快樂！！恭喜發財！！) Happy Valentine's, too!!
Pineapple Tart Filling 黃梨餡
(Adapted from the recipe originally by Quinn's grandma; recipe courtesy of both the ladies)
*I halved the recipe with two jumbo pineapples.*
**I guess if you're like me during my days in the States, canned pineapples aren't too bad as fresh ones cost you a bomb. They suck, too! Well, just buy canned ones to save you time and money. In Malaysia, I got two giant ones for less than USD1.00 (= MYR3.20!)**
***Be warned: The entire process of making the pineapple filling is going to take you 2 to 3 hours back-to-back!***
***Be warned: The entire process of making the pineapple filling is going to take you 2 to 3 hours back-to-back!***
5 almost ripe average-sized fresh pineapples
3~4 Tbsp unsalted butter
2 barks of whole cinnamon
4~5 whole cloves
1 whole star anise
***Please adjust the quantity for the spices based on your preference: increase, decrease or totally omit it.***
2 Tbsp lime/lemon juice (optional)
****Highly recommended because it adds such a refreshing tang to the sweet pineapple filling, my dad loves it!****
800 g sugarStart by processing the pineapples. Pluck off the "leaves," but keep the stem for the sake of convenience -- it acts as a grip for you to hold on to as work on it. And no, we don't wear any gloves. We just try to minimize direct contact with the acidic flesh of the fruit.
Slice off the tough pointy "skin," then carve out the fruit's "eyes" thoroughly e.g. with a small sharp and sleek knife -- try not to carve out the flesh; otherwise, your money would have gone wasted. =(
Next, slice off the tender flesh of the pineapples; cut it up into smaller chunks and set aside. We use the core, too. So, don't dump it! Slice off both ends of the fruit and chop up the tougher core real well into tiny cubes for ease of working later on. However, don't mix those two together!
Process the pineapple flesh and core in a blender or food processor. Start out with the flesh first. Give it a few pulse till you get a runny mass with tiny bits of pineapples remaining--don't purée and don't add additional liquid to it. Pour it out into another bowl (or something similar), but reserving a bit in the blender to help process the tougher core better. Purée the core real well, then pour it out into the rest of the chunky pineapple purée. You should place the purée into a colander that's been set over a larger bowl to drain out excess juice on its own till no dripping anymore -- you need not press to squeeze out the juice intentionally.
*****If you prefer smoother, less fibrous texture for the filling, purée the pineapples completely. Aunt A told me that chunkier filling is easier to work with actually. Gotta agree with her, she was so right on that! Anyway, we cooked and sweetened the juice up before consumption due to its highly acidic content. Perfect on hot, hot days!*****
In a big and deep heavy-bottomed kettle, melt the butter over medium-low heat till just warm. Then, sauté (A) till aromatic. Once you hear melted butter sizzling and making the sound of "flip plop," reduce to low heat -- to avoid splattering -- and dump in the drained pineapple purée along with the lime juice.
Turn the heat up to medium, stir it all the time with e.g. a wooden spoon as you cook the pineapples, cook it till they've thickened and gotten almost dried up. Turn off the heat and set the pineapples aside.
Now, in another big and deep heavy-bottomed kettle and over medium-low heat, caramelize the sugar till it's barely caramelized and looks beige in color -- the sugar needs not be completely melted and caramelized though.
Dump in the almost-dried up pineapples along with the spices into the caramelized sugar and stir continuously, constantly to incorporate them. Continue with constant stirring and cook till the pineapples are very thick and can leave the sides and base of the kettle. Turn off the heat immediately.
Transfer the hot pineapple filling onto a plate and leave it aside to cool till it feels barely warm. Next, cover it with a sheet of plastic film and refrigerate overnight. It's best to work with after overnight chilling.
******Leftover filling can be kept in airtight container and refrigerated for 3~4 days or frozen for 1 month******
Nyonya-Style Pineapple Tarts 娘惹式黃梨餅 (Adapted from Florence's)
340 g plain/all-purpose flour
2 Tbsp powdered sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking powder
200 g cold cubed unsalted butter
1 egg yolk
1/2 tsp vanilla extract/brandy
5 tsp ice-cold water, or more -- please adjust it accordingly
- Combine (A) together and sift once, set aside
- Cut in the cold butter cubes into the flour mixture (with e.g. a pastry cutter, fork or knife) till the mixture resembles coarse meal.
- Combine (B) together -- starting with 5 tsp ice-cold water -- and gradually pour them into the butter-flour mixture, try to bind the crumbly dough together lightly by hand as your pour in the liquids. If it still looks rather dry, stir in more ice-cold water --1~2 tsp at a time -- till you've a dough that stays bound together. DON'T knead or overwork the dough lest getting a hard texture in your final products later on.
- Cover the dough with a sheet of plastic film and refrigerate for 1 hour to let it rest while getting chilled to harden the dough up a bit
- When 1 hour is almost up and just before you start cutting out to assemble the cookies, remove the pineapple filling from the fridge. Divide it by 3~4 g and roll each portion really well to get marble-sized balls -- pick out and discard those spices as you do it. Set aside
- Lightly flour the working surface, rolling pin, one 5 cm-in-diameter flower-shaped cookie cutter and your hands. Then, roll out the dough till it is 7 mm-thick. Cut out the dough to get mini "flowers." Lightly flour the surface, rolling pin, cookie cutter and your hands again every time the dough sticks.
You can gather the scraps of dough up by gently pressing them together. Repeat the steps above to cut out the cookies. Continue till the dough has been used up
- Arrange the cut-out dough onto parchment-lined cookie trays, leaving 1.5 cm in between to accommodate dough expansion
- Bake at 200C/400F for 10 minutes. Then, remove them from the oven and glaze them all over with the egg yolks. Next, stick one portion of the pineapple filling onto the indented center of each of the par-baked cookies.
- Bake again at 180C/350F for 10~15 minutes till golden in color. Remove them from the oven and transfer to let cool on cooling racks completely before storing/serving